With the very best books I find I get sad when I’m only a few pages from the end because I just want them to go on, not too many fall into that category but like I said, the very best do. One graphic novel that did this to me was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison (2005), I’m normally a bit of a sprinter but I read the last 20 pages here at a ludicrouslyslow rate because I was so enmeshed in the characters’ lives I just didn’t want to have to step away from them.
Box Office Poison essentially deals with the lives of 5 main characters after they finish college in New York. We get the full hit of dreary jobs, vaunting ambitions running into grim reality, comic books, sex, no sex, apartment sharing and the comic book industry. No-one in this book gets murdered in an exotic fashion, nobody dons a costume to fight crime and absolutely no-one saves the world from an alien menace. Instead we get a cast of beautifully fleshed-out characters moving through a lot of the same situations we all have. What saves this from being a fast train to Dullsville, Idaho is the sheer quality of Alex Robinson’s writing and drawing. He favours a bold ink style, mostly pretty naturalistic but he isn’t afraid to exaggerate and change things up occasionally. The other thing to mention is that this is frequently a very funny book.
I came to really care about the characters, nervy nerdy Sherman, academic Jane and her hairy (and frequently naked) boyfriend Stephen, as well as all the lesser players here. They feel real. With a 602 page black and white graphic novel you need that impetus to drive you through. I don’t want to spoil anything here but it has a really great ending too, a happy one. I’ve read a goodly number of ‘proper’ novels that don’t achieve anywhere near this level of characterisation. It would also make a damn fine mini TV series / film too.
As well as the lives of the main characters Robinson deals with the restrictive contracts that the big comic companies tied up their writers with in the 40’s and 50’s when the character Ed Velasquez, himself an aspiring comic artist, goes to work for comic legend Irving Flavour. Flavour it turns out created Night Stalker (basically, Batman) in the 1940’s and does not receive any royalties or acknowledgement from his former bosses at Zoom Comics. Robinson certainly doesn’t spare anyone in the comics industry as we get some withering portrayals of comic conventions and industry types.
Did I mention there’s quite a bit of nudity too?
Overall Box Office Poison is a terrific read and one I just got lucky and stumbled across one day, I’ve never met anyone else who’s read it (apart from people I have bullied into reading it) and if you like comics, life, relationships, well-observed comedy, occasional nudity and perfectly written dialogue with loads of swearing in then this is for you; it’s certainly for me.
489 Down (still).